Manassas Journal Messenger | Search engines tell us a lot about people

Whether or not you’re a big fan of the Internet, you must admit that it does make a lot of students and really lazy people deliriously happy over one big thing – the all-powerful search engine. Frankly, I’ve never met a search engine I didn’t like. You?

Today it is possible to find out a lot of stuff we didn’t know, about a lot of things we probably don’t really care about, in a matter of seconds. Type in virtually any search term and hit “Go” and chances are you’re going to be flooded with more information about your subject than you can possibly deal with.

You can find out a lot about people using search engines in ways you wouldn’t have thought possible. For example, the other day I got an e-mail from someone who apparently I had met before. But his name and e-mail address were a mystery. The end of his e-mail address was something like “sbcusd.” So what exactly is a sbcusd, you may ask? A search engine had the answer in literally seconds – a sbcusd is the “San Bernardino County Unified School District” in California. Without a search engine, that would have been my 678,481th guess over the course of about six years.

But whether you prefer Google or Alta Vista or Yahoo! (which comes with its own exclamation point!) or some other engine, there is no human brain that we know of, at work here. The searches are all objective, neat and tidy, without feeling, logic or common sense. Do a search on “Hitler” and you’ll get the same methodical, unemotional response as if you were doing a search on “angels” or the “Amazon.”

To these lightning-quick (but still simple-minded) searching devices, all words and terms are merely random letters of the alphabet set in a particular order. They make sense to us, but to them they’re just nonsense symbols that somehow match up with other nonsense symbols, since the alphabet itself is one giant symbologistic chart. Words and terms provoke responses in us humans. To the non-feeling search engine, it’s all simply gibberish. A search engine lacks attitude!

What we need are online search tools that delve beyond the simplistic recognition of mere words and phrases. We need perceptive, candid, unbiased, tell-it-like-it-is cyber tools that save us more than time – that save us from social embarrassment, humiliating ourselves in public, and making the wrong decisions in life (things that I do almost daily). So when you enter “Saddam Hussein” you don’t get back the cut-and-dry message: “Former ruler of Iraq, see, blah blah blah.” A search engine with attitude gets real results:

Saddam Hussein – “1,345,324 hits. Saddam, you ask? Saddam who? Ha ha. Just kidding. Bad man. Bad, bad man! We hope he’s dead. But we don’t think he is. Too bad, so sad. His sons are dead. Quite. They were bad, too. Bad to the bone!”

George Bush – “8,543 hits. There are 10,000 George Bushes in the U.S. alone, but you probably are looking for one of the two guys who was/is president of the United States. Are we right? We always are, you know. Well, try to keep up: the elder Bush is the tall skinny guy who plays a lot of golf these days, and the younger Bush is the guy who swaggers a bit, and who lives in DC. Only this month he’s on vacation at his Texas ranch. Rough life, huh? For both of them, we mean?”

Madonna – “9,878 hits. Do you mean the singer or the religious icon, because quite frankly we’re sick to death of the singer and would-be actress (you see her last movie? Worse than that Lopez-Affleck bomb!). But if you’re talking about the real Madonna, see Vatican, see Bible, or see a whole lot of other good things. Or, if you’re still talking about the singer, see the Things are So Bad She’s Doing Gap Jeans Web site, you fool.”

Arnold – 2, 765,800 hits. Do you see how many hits you brought up here? And for what? For an actor! And not a very good one, either! A weight lifter-actor who talks with this heavy Austrian accent and wants to be governor of California! But hey, what do we know? We’re only a Search Engine. Maybe he’ll be okay. Or are you maybe searching for ‘Arnold Palmer’? We really like him!”

J. Merli – “1,421 hits. But relax, pal. Most of them are not for you! They’re for other guys with your name that are far better known. And better looking, too! And some of them even have brains bigger than a walnut! You really are an egomaniac, aren’t you? Try reading some of those Letters to the Editor about you in the Potomac News, pal, if you want to cure that ego stuff. You really are a piece of work. By the way, you have spinach on your teeth, moron.”

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected]

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